In the U.K., a “Jammy Dodger” is a jam-filled cookie—or someone who’s extremely lucky, which is probably the right term for Artie Conville in this engaging but slight first novel set in Belfast in 1988. As editor of Lyre, an obscure, publicly funded poetry magazine, Conville is a young man on the fringes of the literati, though his affection for poetry is readily apparent—he has an amazing ability to quote relevant verses for almost any situation. The plot hangs on a professional crisis: unless a new issue of Lyre appears—a good one, too—he and co-editor Oliver Sweeney will be sacked. Embarking on “a farrago of deception,” the pair create an entire issue’s worth of poems out of whole cloth. The book is essentially a comic bildungsroman: Artie doesn’t want to settle down to the life of his parents (suburban, middle class, boring), but he’s not truly committed to being a writer or running a magazine either. Maturity will arrive, of course, despite his efforts to slow its progress. Smith is a good writer, with a funny sensibility, but the Northern Ireland backdrop, home of “the Troubles,” provides a disquieting undercurrent (religious hatred, intolerance, and violence) that feels at odds with the fluffy proceedings. Agent: Euan Thorneycroft, A.M. Heath & Company (U.K.). (Feb. 8)
Kevin Smith sold his comic book collection to fund the movie Clerks, and after it became a huge cult hit he was able to buy them back. One of the most successful and critically acclaimed independent film-makers of recent years, Smith was the producer of the Oscar-winning Good Will Hunting and has also written and directed Mallrats, Chasing Amy,Dogma, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Jersey Girl and Clerks II. He is an actor, having appeared in the new Die Hard movie and the Friends spin-off, Joey, among others.